Earlier Wednesday, I posted the first part of my interview with Andrew Solomon, author of the new book “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.”
It’s a book that is receiving extraordinary attention both because of its depth — it has been a 10-year project for the National Book Award winner — and because of its subject matter. Solomon explores the lives of children with some of the most challenging conditions and reveals aspects of their experience and that of their parents that have often been ignored, dismissed or hidden.
“I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response,” Solomon, who is on a book tour that had him in Washington Friday, and Miami and Toronto since, wrote to me.
“When I was working on the book, any number of people told me that I was going to have a rough time selling a 700-page book about disabled children. Too long and too depressing, they thought. In fact, I’ve found that there’s a large and warm reception for the book, and I’ve been very moved by that.
“Partly, the book is about resilience, and it’s not a depressing book. Partly, I think people have understood that while I am writing about family situations that involve extreme difference, what I have to say is applicable to all families: we all sometimes look at our children and think they’re strangers, and we all have to figure out how to wrap our minds around our children’s intense individuality.”
The publishing house for the book, Scribner, has created an interactive Web site where families of children with challenges can share their own stories alongside those Solomon has focused on.
It’s where Solomon said he directs some of the 400 people who are writing him a day now that the book has been released.
“I’ve been amazed anew by how many people are dealing with these situations and feel alone; the bulk of the correspondence I’ve had is from people who have thanked me for giving them the sense that others are going through what they are going through.”
Here are more excerpts from our interview:
JD: Has there been anything in the reception that’s surprised you?
AS: I’ve ... been surprised to be so much in the zeitgeist. I think the last election was a referendum of sorts, with Romney standing for a standardized version of what it means to be American, and Obama standing for diversity at every level. Seeing the gay marriage ballots come out as I believe they should, hearing Joe Biden talk about the struggles of people who are transgender, seeing the surging force of the disability rights movement, I feel as though what felt obscure when I started to write about it has come into the mainstream.
That’s great for marketing the book — but it’s really great because of what it says about the country at this moment in time. I guess the biggest surprise has been that the optimism of my book and of this moment have found resonance in a society where so much is still awry, where people are hurting financially, where life remains tough for everyone.
JD: How has this book changed your own worldview, your practical life?
AS: When I started the book, I didn’t have children, and now, I do. I wouldn’t say that the book was the necessary precondition to having a family, but I would say that it informed, very profoundly, that decision.
People kept saying, “How can you possibly decide on kids right in the middle of a book about everything that can go wrong?” And I found myself saying that it’s a book about how people steam ahead undeterred when things go wrong.
I thought that if the people in the book could love such difficult children, then I would be able to love any child I had, and that’s what I needed to establish in order to have a family of my own.
Beyond that, I think I have lived by the book’s central message, which is that while each kind of difference may singly be isolating, the experience of difference is in fact common to most families; being “normal” is actually the unusual thing.
So having once felt hemmed in by my various identities — as a gay person, as someone who suffers from depression, as a Jew, as an American — I now have a sense that we are all juggling identities, and that has made me less afraid of other people, and of otherness itself.